“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chapter Sixteen, Part One

           Elizabeth stared at the calendar hanging on her wall.  May 19.  Time had flown since she had joined the Children and she barely even registered that any time had passed.  She’d be graduating high school in just a couple of weeks.  But tonight, she’d be going to worship with Aimee and Sandra then taking Aimee to her first seminar.

            Without thinking about what she was doing, Elizabeth pulled her hair back into an almost perfect French braid.  It was just an automatic process for her now.  Briefly, she marveled at how long her hair had gotten over the months.  So much had happened over the last months that Elizabeth hadn’t really thought about—a feeling, she had learned, she kind of liked.  Her walls were almost entirely bare now, her room almost completely devoid of color.  The bulk of this had occurred recently, when Sandra ordered her to overcome greed and donate her pointless material items to the church.

            “We should have done this earlier,” Sandra had sighed as she took note of Elizabeth’s room.  “Clearly your greed is holding you back.

            “It is not!” Elizabeth had said.

            “It’s so bad that you don’t even realize how bad it is.”

            Elizabeth had no idea how to respond to that, so she had done as told.  Slowly, she had made her way around the room, taking down posters and picking up several stuffed animals—anything Sandra had directed her to get rid of, she’d done so.  Finally, Sandra had swapped Elizabeth’s warm, light blue bedding with dull sheets and a scratchy brown quilt.  They had immediately taken the boxes of stuff to the church, giving Elizabeth no chance to turn back.

            Now, Elizabeth didn’t even think on it.  She merely gazed at the wooden cross Sandra had hung over her bed.  It comforted her, she realized, much more than her old decorations had.  She then turned to the mirror and looked at her reflection.  She saw a girl standing in a long brown jumper and white top and a green scarf.  What she didn’t see was the dark circles under the girl’s eyes from a severe lack of sleep; the almost skeletal look of the girl’s face and fingers; the distant, unfocused gaze that made the girl look as though she had barely thought a thought in years.  She thought the girl looked happy, healthy, saved, just as she had been told she was.

            The doorbell rang then and she heard a rush to answer it.  She prayed that neither her parents nor Evalynne would get there first.  Elizabeth wasn’t sure she could deal with the scorn or the sarcasm, even though, deep down, she knew she would have to encounter them anyway, regardless of who answered the door first.

            “Liz!” Danielle yelled up the stairs.  Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief.

            “I’m coming!” Elizabeth called.  She grabbed her bag, in which were her Rose Bible, Aimee’s Rose Bible, her Rose notebook, and a brand new notebook for Aimee.  One more check that she had everything, and then she rushed downstairs.

            Sandra was standing in the entrance way, looking awkward.  Evalynne stormed past Elizabeth as she came the rest of the way down the stairs.

            “Freak,” Evalynne mumbled.

            “Demon,” Elizabeth retorted.  Evalynne, for once in her life, didn’t seem to have anything to say in retaliation—she stopped dead in her tracks, mouth hanging open in shock, and simply gaped at her older sister.  Elizabeth pushed past her.

            “Where are you going?” Mom asked.

            Elizabeth rolled her eyes and, without even turning to face her mother, said, “The same place I go every Wednesday—worship at Children of the Rose.”

            “How about you stick around tonight?  Help your siblings with their homework, spend some time with the family,” her dad offered.

            “I’ve never helped anyone with homework,” Elizabeth said, turning around to face her parents.

            “Well, how about we have a family movie night?  You can pick the movie,” her mother suggested.

            Elizabeth looked at Sandra, who raised her eyebrows.

            “No, thank you,” she said sternly.  Her parents gave her a disappointed look, but didn’t argue anymore.  It was as though they realized it wasn’t worth the fight, because Elizabeth had clearly already made up her mind.  “I’ll see you later.”

            With that, Elizabeth and Sandra turned and walked out the door.


            After a long worship (Elizabeth was pretty sure Pastor Simon’s sermon had lasted an hour—she had kept having to nudge Aimee awake), as everyone mingled in the atrium, Elizabeth gave Aimee some snacks, told her she’d be right back, and went in search of Sandra.  She finally found her in a corner, surrounded by some other older members of the church.

            “Can I talk to you for a second?” Elizabeth whispered behind Sandra’s head.

            Sandra turned to look at Elizabeth, grabbed her arm, and led her to a more secluded area.  “Where’s Aimee?”

            “Snacking on some doughnuts, cookies, and lemonade and talking to some other Roses,” Elizabeth whispered back, forcing her arm out of Sandra’s iron grip.

            “You should be with your charge.”

            “I know that.”

            “Then what is it?”

            Elizabeth sighed, willing Sandra to stop staring at her with that look that bordered on disappointment, annoyance, and downright pissed off.

            “If I go with Aimee to her seminar, then when do I go to my own?”

            “Seriously?” Sandra snapped.  Elizabeth, is this seriously the question that pulled you away from Aimee?  I’m very disappointed.”

            Elizabeth looked down at her shoes.  “I’m sorry.  I just didn’t want to mess up.”

            Sandra rolled her eyes, sighed, and put her arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders.  “Stop it.  You’re going to be fine.  In answer to your question, you’ll be attending an extra seminar with other Level Two Rose Angels until Aimee is deemed ready to fly solo on her seminars.  Like you are now.  So stop stalling, and go take Aimee to her first seminar.”  She gave Elizabeth a push in the direction of the refreshment table.

            Elizabeth caught Aimee’s arm and began leading her down the hallway toward the seminar room.  Aimee’s plate and glass were both empty from the refreshments, so she tossed them in a trashcan on her way into the hallway.

            “Where are we going?” Aimee asked nervously.

            “Seminar.”  At Aimee’s inquisitive look, Elizabeth continued, “It’s the time in which we discuss our beliefs.  You’ll learn the rules which govern our family and lead us down the right path.”

            “Okay…” Aimee mumbled, still looking confused, but she let Elizabeth lead her.

            Throughout the entire seminar, which was about veganism, just as Elizabeth’s first seminar had been, Elizabeth could barely think.  Not a single thought penetrated her skull except for the obligatory “It is right to be vegan, the outsiders are wrong” that she copied down again in solidarity with Aimee.  She couldn’t think about how much her legs were seizing up from sitting cross-legged for so long.  She couldn’t think about how her hand was cramping up from writing notes.  She couldn’t think about how Aimee’s gaze was probably just as far away as her own had been five months ago when she sat through this very same seminar.  She couldn’t even fall asleep, as she had done before.  Her mind was completely blank.

            At the end, after the prayer and dismissal, and after Elizabeth had helped Aimee to her feet, the two girls wandered out into the hallway to find Sandra, who was their ride home.  Aimee released a wide yawn and rubbed her eyes.  For a moment she reminded Elizabeth of a young child who was up way past her bedtime.  Neither girl talked the entire way to the atrium, until they found Sandra.

            “There you two are!  I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Sandra called, rushing over to meet them.  Aimee grunted a response.  Elizabeth brightened up by the sight of her Rose Angel.  “How was your seminar?”

            “It was great,” Elizabeth said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.  She didn’t even register that this was a lie—she honestly believed that it had been a great seminar.

            “Good!” Sandra said, and then wrapped an arm around Aimee’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry, sweetie, they get better with time.  Easier to digest.  The first one is always the hardest and longest.”

            Aimee grunted another response and let the two older girls lead her to the car.  She didn’t say a word until they were almost halfway to her house.

            “It’s just…I don’t get it…” she whispered, causing the other two to turn their heads toward her to hear her better.

            “Don’t get what?” Elizabeth asked kindly.

            “I don’t get why there have to be all these rules,” Aimee mumbled, as though she didn’t want the other two to think poorly of her.

            Elizabeth looked at Sandra, unsure of what to say.

            “All successful families have rules so their children don’t come into harm’s way.  We are a church family—we need beliefs and rules to govern us so we can focus solely on our religion and not on the petty worries of the outside world,” Sandra said.

            “But…so many rules…”

            “I know it’s overwhelming, Aimee,” Elizabeth finally said, turning to face her charge, “but it really is for your own good.  I’ve become a better person since I baptized, and I attribute that to Pastor Simon’s rules.  It’s all part of the journey.”

            “Some of the rules seem…so unreasonable, though.”  Aimee looked at her hands, determined not to meet Elizabeth’s eyes.

            “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.  For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.  First Peter, chapter three, verses fourteen through seventeen,” Elizabeth recited.  She glanced over at Sandra, who gave her a nod of approval.  “No one said the journey to salvation was going to be easy.”

            “I know.  Never mind,” Aimee whispered, and then turned to look out the window.
            Was I ever like that? Elizabeth thought as she looked at her charge.  Surely she had been, at one point, because she couldn’t really remember just believing everything anyone in the Children told her.  In fact, she didn’t really remember much of the last several months at all, except for the rules and Bible passages.  No, I was never like that.  I was always a believer.

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